* Fidesz says "no reason" to delay Monday's vote on
* Bill triggered concern in EU, U.S. and civil rights groups
* Former president Solyom urges presidential veto of bill
* Forint plunges to 9-month lows against euro
By Krisztina Than and Marton Dunai
BUDAPEST, March 11 Hungary's ruling party is set
to push through changes to the constitution on Monday that
critics say will curb democratic rights, despite warnings from
European leaders and a protest by thousands of people in
Budapest at the weekend.
The changes are seen by critics as the latest in a series of
moves by centre-right Fidesz party to cement its position in
public institutions via its large parliamentary majority.
They scrap all decisions by the country's top Constitutional
Court made before the new constitution entered into force in
2012, discarding a body of law often used as reference.
They also create room for restrictive new regulations in
higher education, homelessness, electoral law and family law --
the main focus of Saturday's protest in the capital.
European leaders have warned they may run counter to
European Union rules and civil groups planned a further protest
on Monday evening to urge President Janos Ader to veto them.
The forint fell more than one percent to the
euro to new 9-month lows at 303 on concerns about the vote and
steps by the central bank's new Governor Gyorgy Matolcsy to curb
the powers of two of his vice governors.
Gergely Gulyas, deputy leader of the Fidesz parliamentary
group, told the right-wing daily Magyar Nemzet Fidesz had no
reason to put off the vote despite "domestic and international
"It's natural that the governing majority uses the
authorisation that it got in democratic elections," he said.
CHECKS AND BALANCES
Last week the European institution responsible for defending
human rights, the Council of Europe, urged Budapest to postpone
the vote, fearing for Hungary's democratic checks and balances,
and the U.S. State Department and human rights organisations
have also expressed concerns.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban is expected to address
parliament on the issue at 1200 GMT.
Asked about the vote, German Foreign Minister Guido
Westerwelle said on Monday Germany expected European countries
to live up to the contintent's values:
"It is not only about constitutions and rights, written on
paper - one has to live up to it," he said in Brussels.
Hungary's former conservative President Laszlo Solyom, who
is also a former head of the country's top Constitutional Court,
said a presidential veto was the last resort to prevent the
two-thirds governing majority from overruling the Court at will.
"Parliament's supreme legal standing was typical of the
Communist one-party system in Hungary," he wrote in the daily
In a phone call on Friday, European Commission President
Jose Manuel Barroso told Orban that his government and the
parliament should address concerns "in accordance with EU
Orban sent a letter to Barroso after the call in which he
pledged Hungary would conform to the norms and rules of the
European Union, without offering specifics, according to a copy
of the letter posted on the state news agency MTI's web site.
Orban's party rewrote the constitution in 2011, saying the
old one was a hangover from Communist rule, and they wanted to
change it to reflect the new Hungary.
It says the amendments are mostly merely technical
additions, and that its two-thirds parliament majority has the
legitimacy to set rules it believes are appropriate for society
as a whole, while respecting democratic norms.
Last week the foreign ministers of Germany, the Netherlands,
Finland and Denmark asked the European Commission to strengthen
control over the implementation of European fundamental rights.
An EU diplomat said Hungary was one of the states they had in
mind, but Budapest said that was not the case.
"The idea of financial sanctions (in the foreign ministers'
letter) was not directly targeted at Hungary. Hungary in general
warmly welcomes any kind of initiative that would like to
strengthen democratic values among member states because we
believe we can align with these rules very easily," government
spokesman Ferenc Kumin told Reuters.
Kumin also said the ruling majority had heeded concerns
about mandatory voter registration being included in the
constitution and had scrapped the proposal, in line with an
earlier constitutional court ruling that annulled it.